NEWS from the National Council of Churches, USA
Contact NCC News Service: 212-870-2252  |  E-mail news@ncccusa.org    |  Most Recent Stories   |  NCC Home

God takes no sides in war

Little Rock, Ark., October 2, 2006 "God takes no side in war," say the Rev. Bob Edgar and retired United Methodist Bishop Felton May.  "Do not let anyone tell you differently." 

Writing in yesterday's edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the Revs. May and Edgar look at the words of Jesus against the images painted in the news media on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

"A central tenet of the Christian faith is that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is God, and that in the Bible he speaks for God. There are 'red-letter' editions of the Bible with the words of Jesus printed in red. In one of those red letter paragraphs Jesus says, 'love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...' (Matthew 5:44)," wrote May and Edgar, who is general secretary of the National Churches of Churches and author of "Middle Church, Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right." 

"A lot of people stop at that verse. But right after that, Jesus continues; '...so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.' (Matthew 5:45)," they wrote. 

Those words of Jesus stand in stark contrast to images transmitted around the world on the Sept. 11 remembrances.   

"The images of the president praying on that day of remembrance are reinforced by five years of rhetoric claiming God is on the side of America because liberty is God's gift to every human being on the earth.  He has positioned America and its military as God's arm in making that gift a reality in Iraq," wrote Edgar and May who is dean of the Harry R. Kendall Science and Health Mission Center at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. 

The writers point to movements in recent memory where religious leaders took important roles.  The Solidarity movement in Poland, anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa, and U.S. civil rights movement are all cited as examples where churches played significant roles in their success. 

"But President Bush's campaign of God-given liberty - as viewed through his lens - is not the way many church leaders view God's role in the world.  He may be joined by a faith leader now and then, such as during his visit to the St. Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero but there is no groundswell of support among church leaders to join this campaign," wrote Edgar and May. 

The co-authors suggest an admonition borrowed from a candidate for U.S. Senate:  "It's time we start reading the Bible instead of knocking people over the head with it.  Good advice.  And since the words of Jesus tells us we are all 'children of the Father' it might not be a bad idea to start reading and studying the Koran, the Torah, and the Upanishads." 

Thus, the two church leaders conclude, "God takes no side in war.  Do not let anyone tell you differently."


Complete text of the op-ed follows below.


In war, you can't count on God to be on your side

By Felton May and Bob Edgar

Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

God takes no side in war.  Do not let anyone tell you differently.  

The television images of 9/11 plus five years are still fresh.  They are religious images of President Bush at a Ground Zero memorial service inside St. Paul's Chapel. They are images of the 'interfaith' chapel near the airliner crash site in Shanksville, Penn., a chapel that prominently displays at Christian cross. 

And there is the memory of hearing various choirs singing 'God Bless America' on that day and the echoes of that hymn that have been heard in concert halls, churches and sports stadiums these past five years. 

The word 'crusade' - which the president uttered within 24 hours of the attacks - is still burned into the memories of many non-Christians (and Christians, as well). 

The images of the president praying on that day of remembrance are reinforced by five years of rhetoric claiming God is on the side of America because liberty is God's gift to every human being on the earth.  He has positioned America and its military as God's arm in making that gift a reality in Iraq. 

Most faith leaders are not using President Bush's phrase, 'Islamic fascists', to describe our enemies.  There are terrorists who seek to destroy us but to describe them in any way that taints a whole people or a world religion is hurtful at best and at worst inflammatory. 

Just because those terrorists may invoke God's name as they commit their evil, we should not do the same. 

The images of the president on television do not present an accurate reflection of what faith leaders think of this so-called 'war on terror.' As time has passed since 9/11/2001, more and more Christian faith leaders are backing away from their initial endorsements of the president's declarations. There is a good reason and clear theological rationale for that.  

A central tenet of the Christian faith is that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is God, and that in the Bible he speaks for God.  There are 'red-letter' editions of the Bible with the words of Jesus printed in red.  In one of those red letter paragraphs Jesus says, 'love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...' (Matthew 5:44).  

A lot of people stop at that verse.  But right after that, Jesus continues; '...so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.' (Matthew 5:45) 

Jesus has offered us a new way of being.  He tells us God does not play favorites.  This teaching is central to the Christian churches' position on war and nonviolence.  

Many church leaders in the U.S. have spoken up against torture and the degrading or demeaning of our fellow human beings.  We have spoken up against unlawfully detaining our fellow human beings.  We have spoken up against a government that has routinely skirted the rule of law while invoking it as making us some outstanding example of civilization. 

It is true the Christian church has played a pivotal role in many movements for change in society.  The Polish Solidarity movement and its leader, Lech Walesa, worked closely with Catholic Church leaders in the 1980s.  In South Africa there was an interfaith collaboration led by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu that helped end apartheid.  And the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to inspire numerous faith leaders in the U.S. civil rights movement. 

There are images of striking Polish dock workers going to church.  There are images of South African clergy burying the dead victims of brutal torture.  There are images of clergy and politicians walking to Selma and Birmingham. 

But President Bush's campaign of God-given liberty - as viewed through his lens - is not the way many church leaders view God's role in the world.  He may be joined by a faith leader now and then, such as during his visit to the St. Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero but there is no groundswell of support among church leaders to join this campaign. 

This is a pivotal time in the history of America.  People of faith are looking at the images and looking at the facts.  Clearly, there is a disconnect. 

One candidate for public office in a Midwest state made an important point recently.  "It's time we start reading the Bible instead of knocking people over the head with it."  Good advice.  

And since the words of Jesus tells us we are all 'children of the Father' it might not be a bad idea to start reading and studying the Koran, the Torah, and the Upanishads. 

God takes no side in war.  Do not let anyone tell you differently.


Retired United Methodist Bishop Felton Edwin May, is the Dean of the Harry R. Kendall Science and Health Mission Center, Philander Smith College, Little Rock, Ark.  The Rev. Bob Edgar is General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and author of "Middle Church, Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right."


Contact NCC News: Rev. Daniel Webster, 212-870-2252 NCCnews@ncccusa.org

Return to NCC Home Page